Customer Collaboration Maturity Model



Jill Barnes

Senior Manager AR and Treasury Operations,
Ardent Mills

Marjorie Beede

Cash Applications Supervisor, AR Continuous Improvement & Reporting Lead, Ardent Mills


Jill Barnes:

All right so I’m Jill Barnes and we only have a couple of folks here. We are super early today so let’s be just really informal and if you have a question, throw it out. I don’t think we need to wait until the end. So this is the customer collaboration Maturity Model. Here are our pillars.

Marjorie Beede:

So here’s our agenda for today. First, we’ll talk about the four pillars of customer collaboration. So these are the four factors you want to consider when you’re looking at a customer collaboration model. Then we’ll talk about the different types of customer collaboration and their Automation levels and then how to level up. All right. So let’s go into the four pillars. So we’ll keep tying back to these throughout the presentation when we’re talking about the different types of collaboration models. So, cost. So this always has to be a number one priority when you’re looking at automation or implementing a new tool in the customer experience. And there’s a lot of buzz about this lately. So one of ArdentMills’ core values is serving. So we’re always talking about how to serve our customers best. And then also create efficiency on team productivity. So giving them a scalable, and easy to use the tool and a spot where they’re able to see all the customer data when they’re talking to a customer and process efficiencies is an easy way to prioritize their work and then gain visibility.

Jill Barnes:

So now we’ll move on to the collaboration Maturity Model. But don’t forget those four pillars, we’re going to be applying them as we kind of roll through this. So the first one we’re going to talk about is ad-hoc manual correspondence. That’s the usual manual method. And then we’re going to talk about partially structured correspondence, this is where we have some experience as well from ArdentMills and something that we’re trying to achieve and we’ll talk about inbound correspondence, how do you automate do some really nice things around inbound customer correspondence and then about the future state of A.I.

So first the ad-hoc and manual. So these are all things that we’re completely familiar with. And this is where we were with at ArdentMills not too long ago, we now have a little bit of automation we’ve put into these things which we’ll get to in the partially structured. But these are all the tools that we’re all used to, calendars, emails and excel sheets; this is how we’re used to communicating with customers and keeping up with that information so here we’re bringing back those four pillars and we’re talking about cost customer experience team productivity and efficiency as it relates to each one of these.

So as you can imagine the cost of being completely manual is very high. You’re gonna have the highest FTE investment there and you’re not bringing in any software cost yet, which you’ll see in later models. So your customer experience is probably going to be somewhat poor. I know from our experience when we were at this point, this is when we were asking customers for a lot of the same data over and over or we were not really sure when a team was out and another team was covering. When was the last time our collector really talked to that customer? We just didn’t have that kind of those pieces where we could really go back and find that information easily. A lot of things were kept in the email box. And when you’re doing that it’s the team managing their shared email box well, whether they’re color-coding it or putting it out in a folder. What are they doing it are they even make marking it read or unread appropriately so that’s a big issue that we had at this point. I don’t know if others have also experienced that if you have a shared box kind of situation man if your folks don’t agree on how they’re going to run that box that’s been a hard touchpoint for us.

Jill Barnes:

So productivity and efficiency as you can see your 100 percent manual at this point you don’t have any automation pieces in there. So you know that that’s really difficult and it’s not scalable. When you’re looking at how do we increase efficiency with our teams and how do we put in pieces of automation. I like to think about how can I do that with fewer people. So not really able to scale down your team right here and you’re not really able to add on more pieces because you’re really kind of stuck in that point where I’ve got the people I need to do this and if I needed to do more I’d have to have more people.
So this is the partially structured correspondence and from our experience, this is where we kind of sit now this is where you are adding in pieces of consistency or pieces of automation sometimes in communications with customers I don’t usually think to jump to fully automated right away. I want to put in pieces of consistency and automation that make it easier for me to communicate with my customers and make it a better experience for them. And it doesn’t take a whole lot for me to do that sometimes so the things I include in this category are.

Templates bodies of email templates especially when we’re getting to those more difficult emails we might have some escalation in there. Let’s structure out who we want to send it to what the body is going to read is when we start using some of that harsher language with our customers. I’d like to be very consistent. Across our teams and saying this collector is going to communicate the same way this collector is especially when you start using old words like that. It can also be, are we having a piece of automation in that can say “Hey can I get you your statement every Monday?” Or “Can I get you your statement every Friday as you want it?”. And it matches with your payment schedule for your AP makes it easier for you. And they know when to expect that. So doing a statement template is also a great thing there.

So here’s a quick poll question. What’s the most common customer correspondence scenario that you run into is it discussing promised to pays or pays. No, I hear no disputed invoices missing invoices really. That’s probably my number three and I am still always surprised that I get that comment from customers. Why are you missing the invoice We have a lot of customers. We have a lot of customers that get emails and. When I when I hear a customer that says I didn’t get my EdI invoice really. It’s why I thought this was really going to take care of that problem for us. But sometimes it doesn’t.

So for me, I think my biggest kind of time suck for my team is that discussing a promise to pay and getting that attention on their past dues and it can create just so much back and forth and it’s all by email and then we have to escalate with sales at the time. So to me, that’s kind of my biggest issue pain point and again where an ad-based business that could be different for some of you guys.

Marjorie Beede:

So when you think about automating your correspondence building out those templates that Jill talked about is really the first step. So you want to have a scenario-based template. So that might be a proactive notice for a customer when an invoice is coming due in let’s say five days or a first pass do what an invoice has gone five days past due. You can also set up different templates for internal escalations to sales or to the manager. Then you’ll also need customized notices so that’s for customers who have specific needs or you have to customize that email templates directly to what they need. So once you build out these two things then you can start thinking about automating the timing which is where you’ll capture a lot of efficiencies. All right.

So let’s type partially structured correspondence back to those four pillars so cost you’ll have a software cost because you need a spot to house all those different templates and then a way to send them on the set schedule. The customer experience goes way up because they know when they’re gonna be getting their statements. They also some customers, unfortunately, might rely on those past-due notices or proactive notices in order to send payment so they’ll know they’ll be getting those on a set time when an invoice is about to be due. So the customer experience definitely goes up. Team productivity, so they’re able to see their correspondence history so no more looking in their sent folder in their outlook to see when the last time was they contacted the customer they can see the correspondence history all in that tool and then process efficiency so they have more time now to focus on those critical accounts because a lot of these emails are being sent on an automatic schedule and even if they are still being sent manually they don’t have to type them up anymore because they can just choose the template that matches the scenario that they’re contacting the customer for and then send that email out.

Jill Barnes:

So inbound correspondence this is the part where. We’ve been very interested in lately and I’m seeing more and more of our customers who are saying log into my portal and you log into my portal. So this is really kind of talking about that self-service model of customer service where they could be logging into your part portal you’re logging into their portal. So I’m really interested to see what people have to say about this question because I’m seeing more and more of it in every industry although I feel like my industry as an AG based company we’re flour millers you know where we’re kind of behind on that kind of thing and I’m anxious to see so how many of you have customers of yours that are using self-service portals.

Customers are asking you. So you’ve got somehow many are between zero and 25 percent of your customers have that twenty-five to 50 percent. More than 50 percent that’s still higher than I have seen in my industry and so you know I’m sure other industries are very different. As being AG base we might always be behind the times in that I think that’s really interesting.

Marjorie Beede:

So Gartner is a global research and advisory firm that some of you may have heard of and they’re reporting that there’s a real buzz around customer portals lately and it’s really easy to see why when you look at these key factors now of a portal so customers can access their data whenever they want whether it’s within business hours or not they can click and access their data and pull that right out of the system without having to wait for the collector to respond with a statement or an invoice copy so they can pull those invoice copies and statements themselves they can log their own disputes which I know would be amazing for us right because sometimes we’re waiting on past due for 30 days only to find out that it’s disputed. So this would allow them to go and log that and add their own notes and back upright in the portal and then they could even make payments or log a payment commitment which would really increase the visibility that the collectors have into their customers’ payment behavior.

All right. So let’s tie a portal now back to those four pillars. So there will be a cost right. Because you need to implement a portal obviously unless you going to build one yourself. Customer Experience gets even better because they can get their data in real-time whenever they need it. Team productivity. So this frees up even more time for them to work on critical accounts or get into some root cause analysis for past due. Because a lot of these manual tasks like statements and invoices are now automated and process efficiency. So the collector has visibility into the customer’s behavior in the portal. So they’ll be able to see when the customers pull the statement or pulled an invoice. And I also want to highlight back to customer experience on this. I think it’s important to understand that not all customers are going to want to go into a portal so the collectors will have more time freed up but you’ll have to make sure that you’re working with the customers who still want that contact level with the phone calls and emails and still focus on what the customer needs whether it’s portal or whether you still want to have that kind of conversation with the customer.

OK, so now let’s talk about A.I. enabled correspondence. So this is that future state that you saw you might have seen in the product roadmap yesterday for collections where it talked a lot about the recording and the notes and the tasks. So I won’t do it justice now. Was that Frida? Yes. Yes, just explaining it. But that was a really cool demo. So first things first correspondents based on risk segments. So this is something that Arden Mills is doing today. So we have our customers broken down into different risk levels and then we have different correspondence packages built for each one because a high-risk customer might need that proactive notice but a low-risk customer is not going to want to be bothered with an email that an invoice is coming due in five days.

That would not make them very happy. Auto-generated notes it’s an action item so this is kind of what you saw in the demo yesterday. So the tool will listen in on the phone call to pick up on keywords and then after the phone calls done it will suggest the notes for you to enter and even actions to enter whether it’s logging a promise to pay or remember to send a statement next Friday. So this definitely saves time because the collectors don’t have to type up those notes and create those action items and we all know that we’ve gotten off a call before and said oh I’ll go back in later and create those items and just never went back and did it so there’s also sentiment analysis that a look at the history of the calls and see what’s the best approach for that customer and then suggestions and cues.

So an example of this would be if you’re on the phone with a customer who’s broken a lot of payment commitments. And the tool here is that they’re making another payment commitment. They’ll have that data there to say. You know just kind of a pause to say this customer is broken a few payment commitments in the past. So you might want to suggest that there might be a negative impact if you don’t get this payment something.

Jill Barnes:

I’m interested to see it. I keep hearing about this from HighRadius and I think we’ve seen it a few times on maybe a demo for our company but the sentiment analysis. So I kind of my ears perk up when I’m on the floor and I’m with my team and I’m hearing somebody getting angry and I’m like wow I really hope they’re not on a customer call you know. And so. Or I hear them you know saying OK well let’s work with you on that and I can tell the customer is not happy on the other end.

And how are they handling that? I don’t think this could be really interesting because what I’ve seen the demo do is kind of talk to you about you know it’s picking up that language from the customer or from your collector and saying your customer’s getting aggravated you know maybe you could give a suggestion or maybe you could you know make sure that they aren’t unhappy or when you start to sound that way and it’s picking up on the words that you’re saying and seeing the conversation is escalating you want to try some de-escalation method. So that’s one that. I’m pretty interested. It can also happen with our sales team when our collectors are on with our sales team and saying, “hey your customer’s not paying, we’re not getting anywhere. We are going to need to think about talking to the credit team and putting this account on hold.”

So I’m kind of interesting interested to see where that goes so for the A.I. enabled this is your future state you’re fully enabled. You’re looking at. Higher software costs auto. Obviously, you’re reducing your FTEs. And I like to think that I’m not always reducing my FTE headcount. We did have that situation where we ramp down a lot of contractors when we had our automation put in place. But that’s not always the case with every company. And I like to think that we’re you know re-appropriating those folks within the company potentially within the finance department or somewhere else it could be procurement or transportation.

Jill Barnes:

There’s a lot of places that you can go or you’re putting them on new projects or you’re losing those folks by natural attrition. So I like to think of that as not always a straight headcount cut. Customer experience is definitely changed and I think what Marjorie mentioned before is really important. You know not every customer will want this and not every customer will want a self-service portal. So we have to try and make sure that we’re catering to what the customer wants best. So, your team productivity and efficiency you’re definitely focusing on more critical accounts. Ninety-five percent of automation is a huge number. I think that’s a great feature focus.

And I’m interested to see how we get there. So here’s a summary and kind of talking about those key differences. So we’re taking each of the correspondence types down the side and looking at the pillars over across the top. So your cost is a big deal for every company. We had a large implementation of automation about a year and a half ago and it’s a really big deal. So you’re spending the money on software cost as you get more automated here. But your FTE investment changes. So that’s they have to go in opposite ways together.

But I think what we saw when you start putting in pieces of automation even if it’s not some big bang approach where we’re saying OK I’m implementing all the automation now but get started on doing things in a more consistent manner. Sometimes it doesn’t even take a lot of automation and we’ve seen that especially in customer correspondents have a really good effect on our teams on our cross-functional and also on our customers, the customer experiences is a big deal. And I think customers and also companies are focusing on it more and more. I know we are and we’re having symposiums and swat groups about customer experience and how do we attain that kind of really excellent model of customer experience.

So and again I think some of this depends on you know what does your customer wants from you. So if they want the automation right. If they don’t if they still want to pick up the phone and talk to a person and you handle their account and have that relationship. I love that too. One of the things that we tell our collectors is to be a relationship builder, be a partner to your customer. And it’s hard to do that as you get more automated unless that’s what the customer wants.

So I think understanding the customer’s pain points and where they want us to input that automation is a really big deal. Team productivity and efficiency. And I’ll have to I’ll go back because I forgot it kind of graze it out. But as you get more automated your teams are working on different things and they’re being more productive in analysis and leveraging their analysis for the company instead of just talking to customers shooting emails back and forth and trying to keep track of what they’re doing.

The efficiency, I think productivity and efficiency just go so hand in hand for what we’ve seen. Any piece of automation that we’ve input or consistency has just had even more of an efficiency effect than we thought it would when we started out. So we’ve always had really good results and I really highlight the partially structured correspondence because those are some things that we can all do right now. So here we’re looking at that ad hoc partially structured the inbound. In this I believe is another metric from Gartner that 90 percent of customers now expect self-service from an organization.

Do you guys agree with that metric see? Ours is a little bit different. I guess coming from you know we’re working with farmers and we’re buying grain selling flour. I think we’re a little bit different from a model but we have definitely also seen where this is a big deal for our customers. Unexpectedly so. So for just an example being a flour milling company, we do have a very rudimentary self-service portal for grain customers and farmers. We just rolled it out and they did the roadshow up in Minneapolis to you know where the subset of folks are. And went over great and I was so surprised because I thought you know I’m never going to get some of these folks to log into this portal. This is just they’re not going to want to do a log in a password. And they love it. So I think sometimes I know being in AR, I’m I don’t always know what my customers want. So it was great to ask them and see that it kind of changed my perspective.

So how do we level up the cost? Obviously, a big deal optimizing the software cost versus the ROI savings and knowing what you want that output to look like. Do you want a headcount reduction? How are you going to achieve it? What are you going to do with those extra people? And do you kind of really understand how many FTE headcount you could reduce and really having that because this is somewhat of a soft skill you know communicating with that customer. Not as easy to put an ROI around that for me as when I’m thinking about cash app automation or deduction module automation still really important. But I think it’s got a different set of our way around it. Look sometimes a little bit harder to capture when it’s that soft cost to me.

You know I think if your company is really focusing on customer experience then this will be a big deal. And I’ve seen customers who are companies who don’t have that focus on customer experience and they’re not really putting a lot behind this one but it can really change what your customer thinks about you and how they interact with your team product team to liberty and efficiency those so go together for me.

And I want my team to have a better experience. I mean the customer experience is a big deal team experience is also a big deal for me and as my team happy. And what are they doing all day? Are they doing mundane tasks and kind of busy work or are they really trying to analyze data work with the sales team? Be cross-functional, be a partner to the customer and really having a bigger impact and that’s what we want to do. I want us to be more or less dialing for dollars and more of leveraging our impact for the entire company. And I want that to be how we are seeing questions.

Marjorie Beede:

So I can take that question. So the question was if you’re sending emails through automation like if you’re sending those templates to a tool does the customer know that they’re coming from a tool or think that they’re coming from a collector. So you can build out you build your own template so it has your logo on it. If you write you write the template within HighRadius. So they sound however you want them to sound. So those are loaded in there for the collectors to choose from. And then there’s also the e-mail body which you can read preloaded it but they can add a little extra language in there if they need to add something and they have their own signature on there. So it goes to the customer. It comes from like a. HighRadius alias email. But if they hit reply it does go to the collector’s email that they have setup. So we haven’t heard from any customers like any. Like what is this why we’re getting it from this new email address. It was a really seamless transition. And the e-mails still look personal from ardent Mills. That’s a great question.

Jill Barnes:

That’s something I’m always worried about. Like if it doesn’t look like it’s from a windy collector over here what then are you going to feel like you’re losing touch with us or is it going to sound automated but because we can write all the different emails ourselves and kind of have them preloaded for them to choose from. And then with them being able to go in and change anything they want and say hey Rick if you know if you really know that customer and you’re not going Hello Mr. Gardner. You know you’re saying hey Rick Hope your vacation was good. Glad you’re back in the office, here are some invoices. Let me know when we can talk so you can highly personalize it which I think is nice.
Yeah. Thanks. Any other questions.


Thank you for relating to the user that different e-mail addresses. It does not get caught up in spam filters because that’s the kind of stuff that gets caught up in our spam filters when somebody sending something claiming they’re one company. But it’s coming from another. How do you deal with that?

Jill Barnes:

I think there are a couple of different parts to that question so ardent Mills our company just recently implemented some highly sensitive firewall filtering for e-mails. And just as Marjorie and I were coming here to the conference I’m like all my conference e-mails got caught by my mind cast you know. And I’m like you know and you don’t get them to tell a little bit later but continuous e-mails that we have going back and forth we can easily say this is my customer and it will only happen one time. So that’s incoming now outgoing to them. Marjorie kind of hit on this those larger customers that like you know large grocery stores food service that we might be selling to.

I’m not going to send them a statement. They don’t care anyway. So I’m not going to send them a proactive notice. I’m not going to send them at Dunning notice. I have them marked as strategic in my account risk rating segments and they’re not getting any of this. It’s really not something they want I’m going to log in to their portal and that’s really the only way I can communicate with them. As you get down the chain and you get to those smaller customers I think we have to make sure hey did you get my email.

And then it’s a one-time thing. So we have that same problem with our invoices going out from our ordering systems, not just HighRadius. So our invoices go out directly from our ordering systems to their e-mail addresses. At times that changes we have to say “hey did this get through your firewall? Are we good?”. And we have to do that kind of one-time check and then we’re OK.

Marjorie Beede:

Yep. And we did have when we went live and their collectors started really using the tool for their correspondence. We had them monitoring it, not obviously asking every single customer, “I sent you e-mail did you get this e-mail?”. But if you were realizing that you weren’t getting responses checking in with them and making sure we had a few customers that did have to add that alias to their safe sender list. But it wasn’t a huge problem.

Jill Barnes:

You kind of hit or miss. Great question. Any others? Well, we have food for thought. What is the primary challenge that you’re facing in customer collaboration? And I know when you’re thinking about either going full-blown automation or putting in pieces you know I would really encourage folks to just look at what you can do next. Sometimes it’s not buying a piece of software thing going full A.I. and thinking all the way down the road. What can you do now to make it a little bit more consistent for your customer experience? And I always find that also inversely affects your team experience too. Thank you so much for coming.

Jill Barnes: All right so I'm Jill Barnes and we only have a couple of folks here. We are super early today so let's be just really informal and if you have a question, throw it out. I don't think we need to wait until the end. So this is the customer collaboration Maturity Model. Here are our pillars. Marjorie Beede: So here's our agenda for today. First, we'll talk about the four pillars of customer collaboration. So these are the four factors you want to consider when you're looking at a customer collaboration model. Then we'll talk about the different types of customer collaboration and their Automation levels and then how to level up. All right. So let's go into the four pillars. So we'll keep tying back to these throughout the presentation when we're talking about the different types of collaboration models. So, cost. So this always has to be a number one priority when you're looking at automation or implementing a new tool in the customer experience. And there's a lot of buzz about this lately. So one of ArdentMills’ core values is serving. So we're always talking about how to serve our customers best. And then…

What you'll learn

Ditching the earlier approach of one-size fits all, organisations have responded to the challenge of an increasingly complicated customer group by coming up with an equally precise collaboration strategy which considers a multitude of factors such as risk level, dollar value, payment behavior, etc. So how well are you able to tailor your customer collaboration strategy to suit their individual preferences?

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HighRadius Collections Software automates and optimizes the credit & collections management process to improve collector efficiency, minimize bad debt write-offs, improve customer relationships, and reduce DSO. It provides a complete set of tools to optimize and automate the credit collections management process and enable the better prioritization of credit collections activities All the information you need (invoices, dispute information, POD, claims, tracking info, etc.) on each case is automatically presented in a collections work-space and is ready for use. Apart from the wide variety of benefits that it has, it also comes with some amazing features like CADE (Collection Agency Data Exchange), collector’s dashboard which has prioritized collections worklist, automated dunning & correspondence, dispute management, centralized tracking of notes, call logs & payment commitments along with cash forecasting functionalities. The result is a more efficient collections team that contributes to enhanced cash flow and reduced DSO.